Tough coalition talks loom as Liberals, Labour tie in exit polls

Exit polls showed no clear winner in the Dutch election with the centre-right Liberal party and Labour each winning 31 seats out of 150. The controversial Party for Freedom with its anti-Islam rhetoric came third with 23 seats.


AFP - The Dutch centre-right Liberal Party and Labour tied at 31 parliament seats out of 150 in an early exit poll Wednesday as an extreme anti-immigrant party leapt to third spot with 23.

The VVD led by 43-year-old Mark Rutte had been widely expected to come out tops in pre-election polls, but lost steam overnight to land on par with the PvdA labour party of Job Cohen, 62.

The VVD had gotten 21 parliament seats in the previous elections in 2006 and the PvdA 33.

The Party for Freedom (PVV) of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders more than doubled its parliamentary representation to 23 seats from its current nine, making it the third largest, according to a provisional estimate done by polling company Synovate and announced on national television.

The PVV surpassed even the Christian Democratic Action of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, 54, which had been polled in third place but came fourth with 21 seats -- down 20 from its current tally.

The PVV had campaigned to halt immigration from Muslim countries and ban new

"The anti-Islam party did better than forecast"

mosques and the Koran in a bid to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands".

"Magnificent," was Wilders' reaction to the outcome, as relayed by Dutch news agency ANP.

The VVD, for its part, had campaigned to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year as from 2015.

In the first election in a eurozone country since the Greek econonic crash, the VVD had also promised to eradicate the public deficit which was 5.3 percent of GDP last year, shrink the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servants' pay rises, while raising the retirement age by two years to 67.

With no single party receiving an outright majority, coalition talks were now set to begin, with Rutte having previously stated he wanted to form a new cabinet by July 1.

"We do not exclude any party," Rutte said in a televised debate Tuesday when asked about a possible coalition with the PVV.

Of the other parties, the green GroenLinks got 11 seats (up from seven), the centrist D66 10 (up from 3) and the Christian Union five, up from four.

Some 10,000 polling stations opened in the Netherlands at 7:30 am (0530 GMT) and closed at 1900 GMT for polls brought forward after the government collapsed in February in a spat over military aid to Afghanistan.

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